AIDS and COVID: A tale of two pandemics and the role of statisticians

Statistics in Medicine just published an article that my colleague Susan Ellenberg and I wrote comparing and contrasting the HIV-AIDS and SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemics, and overviewing the role of statisticians in the scientific efforts during these pandemics.


Dr. Ellenberg is my colleague in the Division of Biostatistics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and has years of experience working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), the national research institute leading both efforts and led by Dr. Fauci, working both in HIV-AIDS and also serving a prominent scientific role in SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 efforts.

Here is a link to the main article, which is a featured article in the May 20, 2021 issue of Statistics in Medicine, along with discussions/commentaries by the following scientific experts:

  1. Mitchell H. Gail, National Cancer Institute

  2. Dean Follmann, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease

  3. Natalie Dean, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University

  4. Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell, London School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineM. Elizabeth Halloran, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

  5. Valerie Isham, University College London

  6. Ron Brookmeyer, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

  7. Victor De Gruttola, Ravi Goyal, Natasha K. Martin, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University

  8. Robert W. Platt, McGill University

Plus Dr. Ellenberg and I wrote a rejoinder responding to these commentaries.


Topics of the article include:

  • Modeling the outbreak

  • Counting cases, hospitalizations and deaths

  • Viral testing

  • Natural history of disease

  • Identifying risk factors and prognostic factors

  • Evaluation of treatments and vaccines

In response to the commentaries, we hit on several other topics in the rejoinder:

  • Shortfalls in our surveillance capabilities

  • Excess deaths analysis

  • Assessments of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) including masks and distancing

  • Political divisiveness, inconsistent scientific communication, and the pandemic

  • Population-level validation of vaccine effectiveness and post-emergency-approval safety

  • Vaccine hesitancy

  • Importance of multidisciplinary team science in the pandemic

  • Asymptomatic spread and missing data

  • Important role of statisticians as scientific leaders and communicators

  • Challenges of accelerated science in the fast-moving pandemic setting

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